We see malt (or in English: malt ) more and more often as a seasoning in, for example, brownies or in milkshakes. But wait a minute, isn’t it also an ingredient in beer? Culy explains what malt actually is (and how it tastes).
Spoiler: The mystery of the malt hype is linked to malted milk powder and the nostalgia of Americans. An entire generation has been raised on the sweet powder with its unmistakable taste.
Malt can be (almost) anything it wants to be: a powder, vinegar, syrup. Sometimes it is a milkshake, then again a malt bread or a bagel – you can get the best in Amsterdam here – but also an important ingredient in beer and whiskey. So what exactly is malt?
What is malt?
In fact, malt is little more than grain – usually barley – that has gone through a number of processes. It is germinated, dried, and then finely ground into malt powder. The enzymes that arise during the germination of grain make it nice and sweet. Without going into chemical details, a sugar called maltodextrin ( malt is the English name for malt) is created in addition to the sucrose and fructose already present in the grain. And that makes malt wonderfully sweet.
Extra handy: yeasts and bacteria love the enzymes that are released! That is why malt is often used as a base for bread and beer, to kick-start the fermentation process. Broodbakkerij Fort Negen in Amsterdam, for example, adds malt syrup to their raisin canister bread.
Malt in beer
Beer is essentially four things: hops, yeast, grain and malt. In other words: malt largely determines the character of beer. It provides the sugars – nice and sweet, remember – that are eventually converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide, and it gives color.
Malt lays the foundation on which the other tastemakers can join, because together with water, malt is at the beginning of the brewing process. Sometimes, in addition to so-called basic malts, malt extracts or syrup are also added to beer. These extracts can be used as a sweetener, but are often used during the brewing process as an additional source of fermentable sugar.
Malt in whiskey
Brown leather sofa, legs charmingly crossed, most likely a cigar or cigarette between thumb and forefinger, and in the hand of course the tumbler with whiskey, malt whiskey to be precise. If you’ve ever seen Mad Men, this image is etched into your mind and you’ve heard of malt whiskey. In other words, whiskey with malt.
Malt is used in whiskey for the same reason it is added to beer: as a fermentation agent and for flavor. A malt whiskey refers to a whiskey made from a fermented paste that contains at least 51% malted grains (sometimes including rye). Single malt whiskey is malt whiskey from one distillery – often from Scotland.
Sweet, sweeter, sweetest: malt in desserts
In recent years we have seen malted milkpowder – a mixture of malted barley, wheat flour and milk powder – appearing more and more in, yes, desserts, sausage (!) from Brandt & Levie and Five Guys shows off a malted milkshake. That will undoubtedly have to do with Christina Tosi who baked a chocolate malt cake that went viral.
But why add malt to baked goods and milkshakes? Firstly because of the taste. Malt is like sweet umami: it is nutty (think butter on toast), a little old-fashioned – and therefore difficult to describe – even has something earthy. Opinions are divided, you hate malt or you love it.
Like it or not, malt is a magic bullet in baking. The enzymes ensure that the yeasts are fed and allow your dough to rise. Classic bagels are often made with malt syrup. The enzymes break down the starch in the flour, enhancing the flour’s natural flavors, ultimately enhancing the taste of bagels.
If you order a ‘malt’ in an American diner, chances are you will get a large milkshake made with vanilla ice cream, malted milk powder and chocolate syrup. How did this combination come about? It was served in soda shops in the 1920s after a Walgreens employee invented it (when Walgreens still served milkshakes).
The combination then, because it was William Horlick who brought malted milkpowder to the American market in the 19th century. This invention coincided with the popularity of the powder mix Ovaltine (also called Ovomaltine), which you stir in milk for a kind of fake chocolate milk. Originally, Ovaltine was made from malt powder, milk and eggs.
Do you want to get started with malted milk powder yourself, but you can’t find it in the Netherlands? Then buy milk and malt powder separately and stir the two together. Easy does it!